The laughter of children tumbling through school hallways is a beautiful sound. They jostle into the classroom, conversing at light speed, louder and louder. To quiet and focus them is an art, and likewise giving them a platform for expressing their ideas. All of us want to be heard. Even the shiest, most introverted person is crying inside to be recognized. More so, we want to be known; we want to be understood.
My not-union-member status must be someone else’s fault. My dad’s, maybe? After all, he didn’t appreciate negotiating with the union as a school board member. My mother’s, maybe? She is swift to remind me to do the right thing. Or perhaps the union itself is at fault? I’ve spent years trying to figure out how paying hundreds of dollars per year to the state and national affiliate would benefit me. I’m not interested in the discounts and coupons, which I can acquire elsewhere for free. Nor am I interested in the supposedly tasty snacks offered at meetings.
When have you felt known and understood as a teacher? Who was it that took the time to listen? Who is it now that hears your needs, and acts to meet those needs? Is it someone close by, or someone far away?
Collective bargaining? Yes, I’m interested in that. However, I’ve looked at teacher contracts on school district websites in New York, California, Idaho, Oregon and Illinois. . .They are all alike! Each “local” union is required to be part of the state and national affiliate, and therefore follow its directives. So, who’s representing my specifically local concerns and district-specific teaching needs? Who will help me escape the contract’s stamp of uniformity, so I can be recognized for my individual talent and expertise? Why does the union contract bar other educational associations from putting information in my teacher mailbox, sending me emails, or meeting at my school? Why does it lock me into grievance procedures that lead to arbitration, which may disrupt my ability to get justice in a court?
Teachers cannot rely on nor be taken care of by disingenuous people. Have you been truly heard, recognized and known by your representation? Do they really know your day-to-day needs, and more importantly, have those needs been met?
Legal protection? Yes, that’s a good idea. Did you know that most states have indemnification (hold harmless) laws? School districts must carry “hold harmless” insurance for ALL employees against the unfortunate occurrence of accusation of wrongdoing while on the job. This means the school district will provide legal defense of accused employees. Union member “insurance” will kick in only if district resources are exhausted.1 Contrary to popular belief, the union is not the only provider of professional liability insurance. American Association of Educators2 and Christian Educators Association International3 offer legal protection. The policies from these organizations are in your name, offer twice as much coverage, and coverage of more categories.
Often, I’ve felt like I’m scratching and clawing and screaming to be understood in my position as a teacher. The needs that I have, the support I long for, the solutions I offer –bounce back to me as though I’m yelling at a brick wall. Where is the dues-paid, promised platform for my voice? Teachers, who knows us? Who really hears us?
So, I thought, why pay hundreds of dollars to a union that isn’t offering me tailored service? They never tell how much collective bargaining actually costs. They never tell how much legal protection costs. They never tell what they are doing sitting in meetings with legislators. . .But, they claim I “have a voice in policy” (You know, like common core and CSE and SEL and — the discipline policies that are getting us bloodied and bruised?)
Funny thing about speaking and listening. . .You can’t do both at the same time. Those taking our dues have been speaking. Droning on and on, in fact. Claiming to speak for us, represent us and be there for us. It’s perpetually their turn. Teachers – it’s our turn to hold the talking stick.
It’s not my fault union membership in its current form is downright unappealing.
The law gives teachers the right to vote for who will represent them.4 It’s time for a change in union status quo. I’m making my voice heard. Non-union status is a vote for better, accountable, local-only representation, or alternative representation. Will you join me?
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*Portions of this blog are from a 2018 blog post: https://myfellowteachers.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/my-seventh-letter-to-you/
**Originally posted March 31, 2020. Updated June 10, 2021.